Aug 23, 2012

I Wanna Hold Your Hand

If Bye, Bye, Birdie got it completely wrong, I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978) got it right.  Set on the evening of the Beatles' American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, it follows the adventures of four girls trying to meet the Fab Four in person -- for various reasons.
1. To convince Paul McCartney to marry her.
2. To get a photo scoop.
3. To protest the Beatles' terrible music.
4. To have a fun evening with friends.

There are also 4 boys, there for various reasons.

1. The cute but nerdy Larry (Marc McClure, Jimmy Olsen in the 1978 Superman movie) lends them his car because he wants to fit it.

2. The sullen bad boy Tony (Bobby DiCicco) hates the Beatles and wants to protest.

3.  Ringo (Eddie Deezen) wants to make a lot of money by stealing a personal item from their hotel room.

4. Peter (Christian Juttner) is a big fan.

This is itself a big improvement, an acknowledgement that the Beatles appealed to both boys and girls.  But there is more.

Peter's interest in the Beatles marks him as gender-transgressive to his peers and parents.  His father especially hates his Beatles mop top -- "It makes you look like a girl," and refuses to let him go to the performance until he gets a haircut.  So he sneaks out, determined to stay true to both his devotion to the Beatles and his "girly" fashion sense.

Christian Juttner, then 14, specialized in male-bonding vehicles.  Unfortunately, his career ended with his adolescence, shortly after The Ghosts of Buxley Hall (1980).

Aug 22, 2012

Phyllis Diller and Gay Childhood

Phyllis Diller, who has just died at the age of 95, was a fixture of the 1960s.  Her fright wigs, bizarre makeup, cigarette in a long holder, and raspy "ah-ha-ha" laugh appeared everywhere.

Her two 1960s tv series were flops; no one could stand her schtick for more than a few moments at a time.

But those few moments were priceless.

So she guest-starred on Laugh-In; she appeared in commercials; she did the voice of the Monster's Bride in  Mad Monster Party.

In her act, she pretended to be a "normal" suburban housewife.  Then she turned normalcy on its head. She hated cooking and housework. She was not attracted to her husband, a milquetoast humorously named Fang. He was not attracted to her.

That in itself was enough to make her a role model for gay kids.  She demonstrated that it was ok to be different, to reject the "normal" future of husbands, wives, and suburban houses, to not be attracted to the opposite sex.

One of my earliest memories is a tv commercial that appeared when I was four or five years old. Phyllis shows us a white business shirt ripped in back, and says "If you know my husband Fang, you know it didn't get this way from him flexing his muscles.  Ah-ha-ha!"

But I misunderstood.  I thought Fang did rip the shirt by flexing his muscles.  And I imagined what this muscular Fang might look like.

A promise of beefcake to a four-year old.

Aug 21, 2012

The Hunks of Fame

The tv series Fame (1982-87), about a high school for the performing arts, is notable for three things:

1. The cool opening sequence,  in which Debbie Allen brings the wannabe stars back to earth.  I can still quote it verbatim:
You got big dreams?  You want fame?
Well, let me tell you, fame costs.
And here's where you start paying. . .in sweat!

2. The complete heterosexualizing of the cast.  In the 1980 movie, one of the aspiring dancers, singers, and actors was gay (ok, one of the depressed Hollywood gays, who moaned "Never being happy isn't the same thing as being sad).  But in the tv series (as in the 2009 remake starring Paul Iocono), we don't get even that. Gay people do not exist.

3. The hunks.  The male cast members were, every one of them, muscular and gorgeous, and frequently without shirts.

Gene Anthony Ray as sullen dancer Leroy (top photo).

Billy Hufsey as soulful singer Chris, who posed in the gay-coded After Dark.

But my favorite was probably Carlo Imperato, because his muscles were so unexpected. His Danny Amatullo was a wisecracking comedian, for heaven sake.  Who'd expect Jerry Seinfeld or Jay Leno to be built?  But he was:

Here's another, to give you the general idea.


Silver Streak

Silver Streak, a 1976 homage to Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938), seems odd for a movie that I found "good beyond hope" as a teenager.  Homely, frizzy-blond Gene Wilder (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), plays mild-mannered but randy book editor George Caldwell.  He's traveling from L.A. to Chicago via train for some reason, and since this is the 1970s, where every conversation is about sex, he hooks up with a secretary (Jill Clayburgh), who admits that she can’t type or take shorthand but “gives great phone," while he brags that he edits sex manuals ("I know what goes where, and why").  Back at the cabin, preparing for "phone," George sees her boss, a renowned art professor (do art professors get renowned?) fall past the window, shot to death.

Hilly doesn’t believe that George saw anything, but art dealer Devereau (suave Patrick McGoohan) does; we discover that Devereau has masterminded many murders, and that he intends to kill Hilly as soon as the train reaches Chicago. But before George can help, Devereau’s henchmen toss him off the train.

Framed for the professor’s murder, George wanders through rural Oklahoma with every Sheriff Lobo in a dozen counties chasing him, and to evade arrest, he steals a police car – with car thief Grover Muldoon handcuffed in the back seat. Grover is played by Richard Pryor, star of a few blaxsploitation vehicles and writer for such programs as The Flip Wilson Show and Sanford and Son.

The two experience an immediate, jaw-dropping attraction. They can’t seem to stop grinning at each other like schoolboys in love, in spite of the danger of their situation.

 Their union quickly becomes permanent: after they evade a police barricade and reach the safety of Kansas, Grover has no reason to stick around, yet he helps George steal a second car and drives with him through gorgeously-photographed rural landscapes while Henry Mancini’s romantic theme plays in the background. And their relationship becomes increasing physical: when they reach the train station in Kansas City, Grover grabs George’s hand, then puts his arm around him and pulls him close (ostensible to pull him out of danger); George responds by laying his head on Grover’s shoulder. 


They reboard the train together, and when the evil Devereau recaptures George, Grover dons a porter’s disguise and rescues him.

 After a gunfight, they are thrown from the train again, and grab at each other as they fall into a river. 

 Only after George is cleared of the murder charge and joins a cadre of federal agents out to capture Devereau does Grover opt to end their union. The two clasp hands, and then forearms, gazing at each other with an intensity that is painful to watch. George tries to say something chummy: “If you ever need anything. . . .” But Grover knows that they have transcended words. He touches his hand to his heart, and they slowly pull apart.

But he can’t leave, not yet. As George and the federal agents stop the train and exchange gunfire with Devereau and his henchmen, Grover inexplicitly re-appears.

 George knocks him over in the fury of his embrace, and then they reboard the train yet again to rescue the girl.

Finally, when the runaway train has stopped by crashing into Chicago’s Union Station, and George and Hilly -- the girl he spent ten minutes with -- discuss their future together -- Grover realizes that he has no chance with George. This time he permits no long farewell aching with desire: he steals a car and scrams. 

On the lobby card, Gene Wilder stands facing the camera, his arm around Jill Clayburgh. Off to the side, Richard Pryor is staring at them, a patently fake grin on his face. He has been abandoned.

Many gay and gay-friendly artists collaborated to produce this poignant evocation of same-sex love that almost – but not quite – triumphs over frenetic skirt-chasing.  Gay screenwriter Colin Higgins infused Foul Play (1978), Nine to Five (1980), and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) with a pleasantly low-key ambisexuality. Arthur Hiller directed many of the hunkfests of the 1960’s, such as The Rifleman and Route 66, and made an early attempt to portray gay men in a positive light in Making Love (1982). Richard Pryor was openly bisexual and supported many gay causes.  And Gene Wilder noted that he and Pryor had “an almost sexual relationship. It's like lovers. When we see each other on the set there's a certain nervousness, a little anticipation. . .People call [it] a chemistry, but I call it an energy, like a sexual energy. . .it's almost as if [we're] lovers who have just met.”

Aug 20, 2012

Mission: Impossible

On Sunday nights in the 1960s, if we were lucky, we'd get home from church by 9:00 pm, just in time to see a brawny hand strike a match to light a fuse, which sizzled into a fast montage of action scenes set to a jazzy score. Mission: Impossible.

By the way, the hand belonged to series producer Bruce Geller, and the score was by Lalo Schifrin.

When you're starved for beefcake in a cold Midwestern winter, even a hand is evocative.

Before 1969, my brother and I weren't allowed to stay up past 9:00, and by the 1970s it had moved to Saturday nights, when we usually had something else to do (no way to record programs back then), so I have only seen three years of episodes.

Mission: Impossible belonged to the 1960s spy craze, along with Wild Wild West, Get Smart, Hogan's Heroes, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  The plots: the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) engaged in Cold War espionage, usually involving wearing disguises to trick a communist leader into signing a peace treaty or prevent a communist general from taking over a "peace loving" country. An occasional Mafia don or master-criminal thrown in.

Not a lot of bonding. In fact, two of the team members, Rollin Hand (Martin Landau) and Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain) specialized in seducing opposite-sex targets.  But Barney Collier (Greg Morris), the electronics whiz, and Willie Armitage (Peter Lupus), the weightlifter, rarely expressed any interest in girls.

And Peter Lupus was not shy about displaying his physique.  A frequent model for muscle magazines, he  was a Playgirl 1974.

Donny Osmond Doll

Speaking of toys, my sister had a Donny Osmond doll, which came out in 1976 as a tie in with his tv show, Donny and Marie (1976-79).  There was also his sister Marie, which you could use to do a duet of their theme song, "A Little Bit Country/A Little Bit Rock and Roll," and little brother Jimmy, which wasn't good for much of anything (I don't like Jimmy. He makes homophobic remarks).

I was a teenager, and thought myself too old for dolls, but the Donny figure was nice to look at -- bulging in all the right places.  So one day I checked, and sure enough, the manufacturers had realized that a certain percentage of kids would be interested in undressing the doll, so they eliminated the G.I. Joe problem -- he was almost all naturalistic.  There was even a little bump to ensure that he filled out his pants properly.

Aug 19, 2012

Leif Garrett in Love

Speaking of Leif Garrett, did you know that he fell in love in on CHiPs in 1979?

He plays Jimmy Tyler, a burnt-out rock star who is involved in a traffic accident. As he lies in his hospital bed, his manager, Frank Balford (Bill Daily of The Bob Newhart Show), rushes in a panic to his side. They argue: Jimmy accuses Frank of being all business, insufficiently attentive to his needs, and Frank retorts that he should be grateful that someone cares enough to handle the thousands of details necessary to maintain a rock star. They break up. Frank is heartbroken, but won’t admit it. Instead, he falls into the incoherence that we have seen often in actors and writers trying to express something that lies hidden in the depths of their characters.

Frank: When you’ve been with someone as long as I’ve been with him. . .he’s been with me. . . .

Ponch: [Helpfully.] You’ve been together.

Frank: I produced the first song he ever wrote.

Ponch: “Give In.”

Frank: That’s what brought us together. [Bitterly.] It used to mean something to him.

Ponch: Maybe it still does. If you walk away, you’ll never know.

The middle aged, less than dashing Bill Daily seems an odd choice for true love, but Daily was no stranger to gay-vague roles, and Leif’s characters often displayed romantic interest in older, less-than-dashing men.

The implication that they are a romantic couple intensifies when Jimmy, distraught over the break up, pulls his Ferrari to the side of the highway because he is crying too hard too drive; such hysterics seem somewhat odd for terminating a business relationship.

“It’s confusion in my head, trying to work things out,” Jimmy explains to the solicitous Ponch and Jon, his incoherence matching Frank’s. 

 Officer Jon invites him back to his apartment – why not Ponch, who invites stray boys home in every other episode? Maybe Ponch’s dazzling smile and tightly-packed uniform was too potent to combine with an androgyne with big hair and tightly-packed chinos. Even so, when Jon and Jimmy appear chummy in bathrobes the next morning, drinking milk, it is hard not to imagine that they are immersed in a “morning after” glow.

Jimmy soon realizes that he is lost, both personally and professionally, without Frank, but there will have to be some changes made before he is willing to take him back. “I feel things!” he exclaims. “I’m not just a piece of merchandise!” (Surely the original line was “piece of meat.”)

Officers Ponch and Jon, who like many sitcom stars have little else to do but engineer romances, devise a complex scheme to reunite the couple. Jon talks Jimmy into performing at “Skate with the Stars,” a charity roller disco exposition, and Ponch importunes Frank to attend with some of his celebrity friends. Neither realizes that the other will be there. Frank enters as Jimmy is singing “Give In,” the song that brought them together (coincidentally featured:

Give in to all the fire in your heart.

You know I want to enter every part

Of your heart and soul.

Let yourself go, give in.

Though Frank turns abruptly to leave and Ponch has to restrain him, his eyes mist up at the memory of Jimmy entering “every part” of his. . .um. . .heart and soul.  

 After some “what’s he doing here!” posturing, the officers literally shove the two together. Frank promises that he’ll “hire some people” so it won’t be just business anymore; they’ll “spend some time together." They hug – not a tepid Hollywood grab, but a weepy, full-body, head-nuzzling, never-letting-go hug. 

 The camera pans out to freeze-shots of Jon grinning, Ponch leering, and then Jon looking embarrassed when he sees the two still clinched.

 “I think we can let them go,” Jon says.

Only then does the hug break, and the actors shake hands. This seems to be a mistake, an out of character Leif telling Bill Daily “it was a pleasure working with you.” The last image we should see, the image has remained fixed in my mind, is of the two men, certainly lovers, holding each other tightly.
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